Harold Meyerson

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)
An aerial photograph of Disney World in Kissimmee, Florida I f you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask José López. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), López has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked López, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between López’s legs. The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says López, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.” “Old...

Four Notes on George McGovern

(AP Photo/Doug Dreyer, File)
During Senator George McGovern’s 1972 presidential race, just out of college and back in my hometown of Los Angeles, I worked at the campaign’s Fairfax Avenue office, which was in the epicenter of L.A.’s Jewish community. Someone there (I don’t remember who) got the idea to print up a leaflet that proclaimed, in bold letters, “Nixon is Treyf”— treyf being the Yiddish word for not kosher, filthy, you shouldn’t eat it. The leaflet then went on to list reasons why President Nixon wasn’t good for the Jews. (We didn’t know at the time that Nixon had ordered a purge of Jewish economists from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or that would have headed the list.) Fast-forward 18 months to the Watergate hearings. As the hearings kept turning up crime after crime committed by Nixon’s re-election campaign, Republicans were desperate to uncover at least one dirty trick committed by the McGovern effort. The best they could do was introduce the “Nixon is Treyf” leaflet into evidence, and call the...

Will the Munger Kids Kill California's Schools?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) Proposition 38 supporters from left: Marco Regil, television host for MundoFox, Molly Munger, civil rights attorney and the primary advocate behind Prop 38, Melissa Revuelta, bilingual high school teacher, and actor James Olmos, during a news conference in Los Angeles on September 26, 2012. Proposition 38, a State Income Tax Increase to Support Public Education, is on the November 6, 2012 ballot in California. This is the second in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November. A merica has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the right-wing Kochs, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic conservative, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles...

Make Your Own Gun!

The scariest piece in the news this week isn’t about the election or the economy or the threat of terrorism—though it touches on all three. It’s about the latest development in humanity’s ceaseless urge to invent things—subcategory, the ceaseless urge to invent things that let people do things more cheaply than before. Specifically, it’s Nick Bilton’s “Disruptions” column in the business section of Monday’s New York Times . Bilton writes about 3-D printing—nothing new about that—and how it will soon enable people to build their own plastic, but very functional, handguns in the comfort of their homes. That’s news—and the more you think about it, the scarier it becomes. According to Bilton, it will soon be possible to download a printing schematic from the internet (for free), hit “print” on your 3-D printer, “walk away, and a few hours later, you have a firearm.” Three-D printers, for the uninitiated, are printers that use plastic, ceramics or metal to make 3-D objects through a...

Obama's Other War

What’s weighing President Obama down? In a brilliant essay, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic (and a Prospect alumna) argues that the emotional toll of his job—particularly, of presiding over two wars and having to reckon with their casualties—has emotionally “shut down” the president. “Running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that’s led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat,” she writes, have taken a toll on the “easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm” that he displayed in his 2008 campaign. I think my friend Garance is on to something serious here, but I want to broaden the diagnosis. Every night, we know, Obama reads ten of the multitude of letters that Americans send him to let him know what their lives are like, to ask him for some kind of help. At a time when the American middle...

They Work Hard for the Money

(AP/Mel Evans
(AP/Mel Evans) Cargo containers are stacked on the deck of the Mediterranean Shipping Company's vessel at Port Newark in Newark, New Jersey. As work becomes increasingly a matter of machines building or moving other machines, workers either lose their jobs or—if they are fortunate enough to keep their jobs—become vastly more productive. Productivity surged in the U.S. during the early years of the current downturn when companies laid off workers by the millions and replaced them with machines. Revenues per employee at the S&P 500, the Wall Street Journal reported, rose from $378,000 in 2007 to $420,000 in 2010. And yet, the wages and benefits of employed Americans experienced no corresponding increase as workers’ productivity rose. Indeed, over the past quarter-century, as economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have reported, all productivity gains have gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans. In the quarter-century following World War II, by contrast, productivity...

The GOP Is Losing the Battle of Ideas

When Mitt Romney announced his selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate in August, conservatives swooned for two distinct reasons. First, Ryan was existentially one of them. Second, they exulted, Ryan’s selection meant that the presidential contest would be a battle of ideas, pitting their vision of a radically shrunken state and diminished social benefits against the Democrats’ support for social guarantees and a mixed economy. The Republicans got their battle, all right. And they’re losing it catastrophically. What’s brought the Republican ticket down most, other than Romney’s casual slander of everyone who’s ever received government benefits, has been Ryan’s advocacy of ending Medicare as a guaranteed benefit and converting it to a voucher system. Republican support among seniors—the one age group that supported John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008, and the one that had preferred Romney over Obama in all the pre-Ryan polling—has eroded sharply. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll released...

Richie Rich Aces the SAT

(Flickr/sacmclubs)
(Flickr/sacmclubs) A California high schooler takes the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). The College Board released its data on 2012 SAT scores on Monday, and beneath the headlines (which tallied how much SAT scores have slipped as more and more students take the test) was a revealing picture of the influence of students’ household income on their performance. The influence couldn’t be more decisive. The board measured household income in increments of $20,000—starting with students from households making $0 to $20,000 annually, then $20,000 to $40,000, all the way up to $160,000—then an increment of $40,000 ($160,000 to $200,000) and then a final category of more than $200,000. And SAT scores rose considerably at every step in the income scale. The poorest students, from households making less than $20,000 had a mean combined score of 1322 out of 2400; the next highest, 1397; then 1458, then 1497—all the way to a score of 1722 for students from households making more than $200,000...

The Amalgamated Pole Vaulters

(Flickr/TexasEagle)
A common refrain among union critics is that Americans no longer need unions—that unions were well and good for the exploited sweatshop workers of a century ago, but today’s empowered Americans need no such crutch. With workers’ incomes falling, and with the United States leading all industrial nations in the percentage of its workers in low-wage jobs, it’s increasingly clear that today’s we need unions for many of the same reasons that the workers of 1912 did: They’re exploited and underpaid. But if it’s only the nation’s most exploited workers who need to band together, why have America’s most talented employees formed unions of their own? Actors, writers, directors, and cinematographers all have unions. Baseball, football, and basketball players have unions. And now, ESPN.com reports , America’s track and field athletes want a union of their own as well. The immediate grievance that has spurred the athletes to action is Rule 40 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which...

Mitt "Ayn Rand" Romney

Jamelle has already blogged about the devastating video of Mitt Romney speaking to a fundraising event that Mother Jones’s invaluable David Corn posted today . For those of you who may have missed it, here’s a partial text of what Mitt said in answer to a question about Obama voters: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. […] [M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. The only thing I’d add to Jamelle’s observations...

The Chicago Teachers’ Balancing Act

The paradox of unions is that they are at once armies and democracies—an oxymoronic construct that means they can seldom be as efficient as a top-down organization, or as expansively deliberative as, say, an idealized New England town meeting. There no ideal equipoise for a union—some, in which member participation has atrophied, can be essentially autocrat; some are more democratic (although democracy can impede growth if members insist on making the union devote resources to servicing their needs at the expense of organizing new members). The better unions try to balance their dual roles, and that looks like what the Chicago Teachers Union did Sunday night. No one can question the union’s capacity as a unified force. A change in state law required the union to get a 75 percent vote of the members to authorize a strike; the union got 90 percent. The week-long strike has not been shaken by any member dissent (at least, none has been reported). But on Sunday afternoon, the union also...

Chicago, Yes; Wisconsin, Huh?

As Chicago teachers union officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office were assuring Chicagoans that they had reached an agreement Friday afternoon on their contractual dispute, a judge a hundred miles north in Madison, WIsconsin struck down as unconstitutional that state’s hugely controversial law banning collective-bargaining rights for public employees. As I write, the text of the judge’s decision is not yet available, but since a ban on public-employee collective bargaining exists in many states, either the judge found new grounds to declare the law unconstitutional, or he declared it so for reasons not related to the constitutionality of such prohibitions. Nor is it yet clear whether his decision immediately reinstates the old law, or whether the effect of his decision is on hold until a higher court rules on what is sure to be the state’s appeal. ​Things are clearer down in Chi-town. There, the union has apparently agreed to a teacher-evaluation system in which student test...

Chicago Chooses Sides

Read the commentariat, or just subject yourself to the deafening consensus of enlightened opinion, and you have to believe that the beleaguered parents of Chicago’s schoolchildren are fuming at their city’s teachers' union, on strike now for a full week, and backing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to shape up the school district. Read the polls, or just the press accounts of parental support for the teachers, however, and you come away with an altogether different impression. A poll commissioned and released Thursday by Capitol Fax , an Illinois political report, of 1,344 registered Chicago voters found that fully 66 percent of parents with children in the public schools, and 55.5 percent of Chicagoans overall “approve the Chicago Teachers Union decision to go on strike.” Among African Americans, strike support stood at 63 percent; among Latinos, 65 percent. (Roughly 80 percent of Chicago’s schoolchildren are minority.) So, who disapproved of the strike? A majority (52 percent) of...

What Does Labor Need to Do to Survive?

In reporting my piece on labor’s future (" If Labor Dies, What's Next? "), I talked with a number of labor leaders and activists about their ideas for what unions need to do differently to survive—and make a difference—in today’s political economy. Here are my edited versions of four such discussions: Randi Weingarten Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers School districts are cutting professional development, increasing class size, cutting art and music education, and blaming teachers for not doing a good job at the same time that the poverty rates for children are increasing. We can complain about that, but we have to do something about that. We can’t just tell the districts and the legislators to do a better job. What we realized is we need to solve the problem. We have to focus on quality as well as fairness. Teachers need and want to share best practices with each other. They want to know how to make their lessons more robust. Education is going...

The Hungarian Solution

If the current wave of Republican criticism of Mitt Romney—due to his ideological uncertainty and the general incompetence of his campaign—keeps up, here’s a suggestion for a replacement candidate: Viktor Orban. The longtime leader of Hungary’s right-wing Fidesz Party and Hungary’s prime minister since 2010, Orban seems more committed to carrying out a Tea Party-esque agenda than Romney does. In his two years in office (he also served as prime minister a decade ago, but with a smaller majority and a less radical platform), Orban has slashed unemployment benefits, restricted collective bargaining, and reduced the nation’s retirement benefits. More than that, though, he’s gotten into trouble with the European Union (which at least nominally tries to hold member states to agreed-upon democratic norms) for his move to make the nation’s judiciary answerable to his office, and his purge of TV programs and newscasters who didn’t take the Fidesz line. Independent voices have largely vanished...

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